Hi Guys I’m starting a new series here on Paint and Butterflies Books a page to screen adaptations series and as I have very recently watched Atonement I thought it would be a great place to start.
One of my favourite things about reading apart from the actual reading of course is when beloved books get adapted for the big or small screen. I have reviewed some great and… some not so great adaptations but one of my favourite films I have never spoken about – Atonement. The book by Ian McEwan and the film starring Kierra Knightly and James Mcavoy, Dir by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice)
I came to the film before the book when it was released in (2007) and have been really fond of it ever since. The book I read about three of four years ago and it only deepened my love for the story, while reading it I realised just how loyal the film version had been to the original material.
Firstly if you haven’t seen Atonement go see it right now, I’m about to spoil everything. The story is set the ‘golden’ summer before World War One, both the novel and the movie are set in three parts the first part being hot summers day at our main character Briony’s parents country home in England it is important to note that Briony is thirteen years old. Briony is the youngest of three children, her sister Cecilia is a Cambridge graduate and is home enjoying the summer and their elder brother Leon is coming home for a visit bringing his friend Paul Marshall a chocolate millionaire with him for the weekend and Briony is elated to see her brother. But also a little confused, her universe is shifting and for the first time in a long while she’s not the center of it. She is a young writer and plans to write him and perform him a play to celebrate his return- The Trials of Arabella by Briony Taliss.
The young family invite Robbie the housekeepers son to dinner after seeing him on the approach their fine country house. This wasn’t just a random act of kindness Robbie is like a member the family, Cecilia, Leon and Briony’s father had taken kindly to his House Keepers son and he had paid for his schooling and later his Cambridge education in which he attended at the same time as Cecelia although they weren’t friends they never spoke.
Everything that occurs for the rest of the novel and the rest of these characters lives is decided on this one sunny afternoon. Briony sees something she doesn’t understand-her sister and Robbie having an argument fueled with sexual tension by a fountain in the garden. Briony sees this through a window, with no context but instead of asking questions she starts to doubt Robbie’s moral character and being the kind of character Briony is she creates her own fantasy scenario with hero and villains and her own version of right and wrong unable it seems to distinguish from what is truth or fact and what’s in the reality going on around her.
Later that evening Briony catches Robbie and Ceclia having sex in the library, they have just confessed their love for each-other. But in Briony’s mind Robbie is further the villain who was hurting her big sister, the fantasy continues. Now a fantasy is fine in it’s self when no harm is caused.
Briony’s cousins Lola, Jackson and Pierro are staying with them while their parents are divorcing and surrounded by scandal and the troublesome twins Jackson and Pierro go missing at dinner. While everyone is looking for them in the darkness Lola their elder sister is raped and is discovered by Briony. Briony did see the perpetrator but could never be sure who it was. She convinces herself it was Robbie and tells the Police she is knows it was him and this certainty puts him in prison until the start of the war. The question is how accountable is Briony for her actions? I think from a very young age we know the basics of right and wrong and when it’s play time and when’s it’s not. Briony is forever in a state of play, she doesn’t learn or progress the same way other children do she doesn’t care about the world outside her own childhood bubble and thinks if she tells her story to herself or others that makes it so. She said Robbie was evil so it was so it’s the whole writer is God complex, she is dark and terrifying.
The rest of the book follows Robbie and Cecelia’s separate lives and reunion, and of course the repercussion the war, and what it had on them and Briony. For Robbie that was prison and having to join the army as a private thanks to Briony’s actions always keeping him closer to the danger. Eventually his on journey would lead him to Dunkirk. When Robbie and Cecilia do finally get to see each other again for half an hour in a coffee shop Cecilia has to leave to go back to the hospital where she is nurse. You can still feel that love between the two characters but also the distance because they have never really been given a chance to be together.
Cecilia mentions how Leon stands outside her flat and tries to see her and another implication of what Briony has done to so many people hits again, this lie had destroyed a family, two families. The family have lost Cecilia, Cecilia has lost her family, Robbie’s mother left alone and had to watch her only child be dragged off to prison and probably lost her job because how can she keep working for the family now? And Briony really has come off unscathed, yes she nursed in a hospital for a bit but really she’s the centre of the universe like she always wanted.
There is a section in the book where Robbie and Cecilia are living in a white house by the sea it’s something they talk about a lot in the book and in the film, they are together and they are happy. In this scene Briony apologies to Cecilia and Robbie tells them she wants to help clear Robbie’s Name. She also tells them that Paul Marshall the chocolate millionaire really raped Lola but she is also now his wife.
We later find that this conversation was fiction and all happened in the context of Briony’s Novel she has released in the present day, and never could of happened because Robbie died at Dunkirk on the last day of the evacuation, Cecelia also died because of a bombing and burst water main and were never reunited. Briony sees this book as her Atonement, cleansing herself of her crime. I have mulled Briony over and over in my mind and I personally think she is vindictive, nasty little madam who was old enough to know better. She lived in her own head more than was normal and as much as writers and creatives do live in their own head a little (or a lot) Briony blurred the lines of reality and fantasy until she couldn’t see which was which.
I found a quote from James Mcavoy who played Robbie saying she was ‘nuts…and she can rot in hell…’ I’m inclined to agree.